“How come 9Gag is so funny?” says Ray Chan from Centre Stage at Rise, mimicking one of his friends. “How come you’re not that funny?”
“I always tell them, ‘I’m not a funny guy. I’m a very serious person.’ Actually, working at 9Gag is no fun at all. You have to go through so much funny stuff every day, after a while you become kind of desensitised.”
The company’s mission is to “make the world happier” That’s what Chan set out to do ten years ago when he started sharing funny memes and videos on social media. Today, Hong Kong-based 9Gag is a multi-channel media company with a global audience of 150 million monthly users.
The company is now the sixth biggest brand on Instagram, according to its founder, behind National Geographic, Victoria’s Secret, Nike and the Barcelona and Real Madrid football teams. “So 9Gag comes right after sport, nature and beautiful women,” jokes Chan.
According to Chan, anyone can produce viral content if they follow the right recipe. “Most people ask me how to go viral,” says Chan. They say “Should I post more pictures of cats or food? How come people don’t think my funny video is funny? How come your cat gets more likes than my cat?”
“To be honest, they are asking the wrong question. The format and the object in the photo are only part of it. The more important question is ‘How is it helping me?’ How is the content serving its audience?”
This key question is the same for all content, says Chan, no matter what the format. “Memes are just a type of content. Great movies, novels and articles also share the following principles.” To go viral, says Chan, your content must be meeting one of the following four audience needs.
1. Make me laugh
“This is content that's just good, clean fun. Most of the time it’s non-offensive—dad jokes, puns, stuff like that. It works because people love to laugh, and they want people they care about to laugh too, which is why they’re willing to share this kind of content."
2. Surprise me
“Human beings always want surprises, especially a good one. People have certain expectations towards people, things and events. If content can surprise them in a good way, they are more willing to finish watching it and share the good surprise with friends.”
3. “This is me”
“This is content that helps people make a joke about themselves, “humble-brag” or connect with others. People are “pack animals” that want to find their own flock. If content can help them do so, they are more likely to share it.
For example, you’ll see people share videos about being introverted when they think of themselves as an introvert—they want to use the content to find others like them and tell others who they are.”
4. Give me hope
“This is content that lets you know there are still good things happening out there. The news mainly reports on bad things in the world. ‘Hopeful’ content gives people the strength to carry on. It makes you feel good and makes you believe that there are still good people in the world, no matter how much your life sucks. We all need faith to move forward.”
5. And one more thing…
“As well as these four rules, the ‘secret sauce’ is continuous learning and experimentation. We believe there’s always a reason why a piece of content goes viral. When we see viral content that we don't understand, we always dig deeper to find out why it was so popular, so we can learn something new and build on it.”